Obama takes a shot at a key part of his base — art history majors

When President Obama extolled the virtues of training to work in manufacturing and the skilled trades in Wisconsin on Thursday, he may have inadvertently offended a key part of his political base: art history majors. (Video courtesy of WhiteHouse.gov)

WAUKESHA, Wis. — When President Obama extolled the virtues of training to work in manufacturing and the skilled trades here, he may have inadvertently offended a key part of his political base: art history majors.

During an event at a GE gas engine plant, the president emphasized that Americans would be better off if more of them could work in the manufacturing industry.

“Manufacturing jobs typically pay well,” he said. “We want to encourage more of them.”

And while some young people might not think of the skilled trades as a lucrative career, Obama added, they can probably earn more “than they might than [with] an art history degree.”

The president quickly recalibrated his remarks, noting that he would get a slew of e-mails from art history majors if he didn’t. “Now, there’s nothing wrong with history,” he offered. “I love art history.”

Obama is not the first prominent U.S. politician to mock art history majors: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made a joke about the field at the expense of his own daughter, Meghan, who majored in the subject at Columbia University, when he was campaigning for president in 2008.

And the president did please another part of his base during Thursday’s event: women. When he told the crowd of GE workers, “We’ve got to pay women equal pay for equal work,” a loud cheer rang out.

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.

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